Allergy within the NHS ? and in the Houses of Parliament
Allergy within the NHS is a circular problem. Despite the fact that millions of patients (over seven is the current best guess) suffer from allergy, most doctors in primary care know little if anything about the condition and the situation is little better in hospitals. Frances Dale explains how the NASG is trying to raise MPs' awareness.
Most allergic patients are seen by a doctor who is unable to identify or recognise their condition so does not diagnose it. As a result the NHS has no count of how much allergy there is and it is not taken seriously in NHS service planning; most commissioners are not even aware that allergy is a separate speciality. There is therefore no provision for allergy education in medical schools and no attempt to increase the number of doctors or specialists who understand allergy.
As a result, doctors remain unable to recognise, diagnose or treat allergy and the system fails to accommodate the need for allergy specialists.
Result - poor outcome for patients and wasted resources on inappropriate care.
Amongst those who know about these things, this situation is all too well understood. Indeed there have been numerous reports from professional bodies and within parliament itself, highlighting all of these issues - but not a lot happens ...
There are also a number of bodies who have tried to raise awareness: the NASG (National Allergy Strategy Group) which provides the secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Allergy and which is made up of the BSACI (British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology), Allergy UK and the Anaphylaxis Campaign, is one of them. Although the average allergic patient may not have seen much improvement as a result of their efforts, they are trying...
They believe, hopefully rightly, that if they can raise awareness of the problem sufficiently amongst MPs (which includes making MPs aware of the existence of allergy sufferers amongst their own constituents) they stand a better chance of pushing reforms through the NHS which will, eventually start to address the problem.
To that end they have run a number of parliamentary gatherings, the most recent of which was at the beginning of November, bringing together MPs and their own allergic constituents. On this occasion the event, which was hosted by MP Jo Swinson, herself an allergy sufferer, included a group of allergic adults and children, their own MPs and health minister, Anne Milton. The idea was to give the MPs some idea of how their allergy was affecting their lives.
Speakers included Ruth Holroyd, well known to FoodsMatter.com visitors (see her articles – Use your Epipen and Anaphylaxis Action Plan) who is allergic to nuts, dairy and latex, Yussra Syed who is 9 years old and is allergic to dairy, soya, eggs, nuts, fish, wheat, oats, corn, rye, barley, chickpeas, buckwheat, lupin flour, watermelon, latex, dust and pets and Gea Roex, a 17 year old severely allergic to dairy. For more details on the event see Ruth's blog.
Let us hope that the attending MPs took good note!
The NASG then arranged a further meeting on November 24th for the same group of children to meet Children's Minister Tim Loughton to discuss the potentially lethal problem of allergy bullying which is all too common in many schools.
Ellie told us how her classmates put products containing dairy on her desk despite knowing she has a severe allergy; Yussra explained how she was afraid to tell anyone after her best friend waved a nutella sandwich in her face even though she knows of her serious nut allergy and James showed how serious this type of bullying can be as he described how he has had to change schools after a groups of boys held him down, punched him and threatened to force him to eat nuts. James managed to escape before they could carry out the threats but did report the incident to the police.
The key ask from the young people was that bullying someone by threatening them with an allergen should be an offence which carries an automatic suspension. The Minister agreed that this type of bullying is unacceptable and that there is a real need to raise awareness of the severity of some allergies in schools. He said that he would aim to get allergy incorporated into the Ofsted behavioural inspections at schools and would look at giving schools more information on allergies and how best to manage them to avoid this kind of bullying happening in the first place.
If you want to get a better idea of how allergy can affect sufferers' life and how poor most provision is, take a look at the NASG's website - and if you would like to harass the government to actually do something about it – sign their petition and start harassing your MP and the chief medical officer – all details of how, here on the NASG site.
Dr Harry Morrow-Brown has also pointed out that there is also an excellent article by Baroness Finlay on how primary care provision for allergy could be improved in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
First published November 2010